We are pleased to present the following roundtable on the work of Henry David Thoreau. The contributors for this symposium will offer responses to one another’s work, while addressing themes of violence and nonviolence, attention, and the unresolved question of religion and spirituality in Thoreau’s writing.
Professor Rebecca Ruth Gould of the University of Binghamton offers the first contribution in this series, “Thoreau, Violence, Conscience.” Here, Professor Gould thinks through the ways in which Thoreau could be read as “at once a theorist of violence and nonviolence…so as to better probe their intersections.”
Professor Caleb Smith of Yale University offers the second contribution, “That Terrible Thoreau,” considering how Thoreau’s reflections “on the problem of attention” could leverage a critique of modern capitalist economy.
Doctor Alda Balthrop-Lewis of Australian Catholic University provides our third contribution for this symposium, “Thoreau’s Asceticism as Obedience to a Higher Law.” In it, she challenges “secular” readings of Thoreau, arguing that “the category of religion and the study of theology are central to understanding Thoreau and his practice – of both asceticism and politics.”
Our final contributor, Professor Peter Coviello of the University of Illinois at Chicago, rounds off the conversation in his piece, “Violence and Thinking About Violence.” He considers the ways in which Thoreau can help us illuminate the “state-claimed monopoly on violence that undergirds political economy” and make space for new modes of dissent.
In times as uncertain as ours, these reflections serve as welcome reminders of the importance of political resistance, critique, and the near-militant self-awareness that characterizes Thoreau’s work. We hope you enjoy.